“Charles would love it!” was one of my first thoughts when I tasted this new version of kimchi. First of all, I know that Charles (my blogging friend from 5 Euro Food) loves kimchi and Korean food. Moreover, we have recently had a most interesting conversation about celery (don’t laugh!), which Charles adores and I only start discovering. I am sure that someone has already tried making celery kimchi, but I swear it was my own idea (although maybe Hyosun’s kind suggestion of a Korean celery side dish has put me on the right tracks…). Whatever was the trigger, when I saw celery stalks in my fridge and two containers of kimchi above them (yes, I have become a notorious kimchi maker quite a long time ago), I thought “why don’t I “kimchi” the celery too?”.
The result is stunningly good. The celery has stayed crunchy, refreshing, but tougher than radish in kimchi. Its anise aroma, instead of disappearing, has curiously doubled, so even after a couple of days, the not fully mature kimchi is already particularly strong. (UPDATE: After 5 days the celery aroma started to weaken and sadly the kimchi started to lose its appeal…). I suppose this is only for the celery fans and I wouldn’t advise it to those who hate anise aroma either. For me, who only starts to discover the magic world of celery, this kimchi is a revelation and I am already making place for an additional, constant container in my fridge.
As a reminder, kimchi (김치), is a Korean method to ferment vegetables with garlic, chili and some other ingredients. Chinese (Napa) cabbage and daikon (white radish) kimchi are the most popular, but I think my all-time favourite is cucumber kimchi, I have discovered thanks to Charles’s suggestion. Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant. It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetables, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is said to prevent certain cancers… Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture I know. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi is used in fried rice, stew and soups.
I fill my kimchi stock regularly, so that I have at least one kind in the fridge. It’s a perfect side dish and a quick way to add vegetables to any meal, especially when one doesn’t feel like cooking anything more or even making a salad. I also use it often (the cabbage version) in fried rice (see the recipe here) which thanks to kimchi’s strong flavours and its “sauce”, doesn’t require any additional seasoning. I haven’t tried it yet in soups, but am planning to do it soon.
The traditional, whole cabbage kimchi requires some dexterity (or maybe I am too clumsy?) and my three experiments were not fully successful. Its lazy version I prepare, the radish kimchi and the (also lazy) cucumber kimchi are ridiculously easy and can only get better in time, while we adapt the seasonings, the hotness level and the fermentation time to our palate. In short, if you like hot flavours and garlic, do try kimchi one day. Hyosun from Korean Bapsang is my main inspiration in Korean cookery and my radish and cucumber kimchi are based on her easy-to-follow recipes. The easy cabbage kimchi recipe comes from Shu Han’s Mummy I can cook!. I have based my celery version on radish kimchi. Thank you, Hyosun and Shu Han, for introducing me to the world of kimchi.
If celery is not your cup of tea, I propose more crowd-pleasing versions of kimchi (nowadays my chili powder is darker, hence the difference in hues):
UPDATE: Contrary to the above kimchi, the celery version was excellent only for the first several days. After about 5 days it started to get too pungent and strong. I advise eating it quickly! This is an ephemeral kimchi
Use younger celery stalks which do not require peeling (i.e. which don’t have “threads”). The process will be quicker. I find younger celery bunches in organic shops, but of course it depends on the country you live in.
Hyosun Ro’s and traditional Korean recipes call for raw shrimp or sometimes raw oyster as the fermentation enhancer, but since I can only get frozen shrimp, I thought it would be safer to replace it with additional fish sauce.
Wear gloves if you manipulate kimchi with your hands (apart from the smelly side there is lots of chili in it).
If you taste your kimchi and it seems very bitter, leave it to ferment for additional 24 hours. I did it with my radish kimchi and miraculously the bitterness disappeared!
Preparation: 1 hour + min. 2 days, but 2 weeks are optimal; the kimchi you see above was one week old and improved every day
Ingredients (I adapted the ingredients to my very small “test” batch):
500 g/about 1 lb rather young celery stalks (daikon) cut into 3 cm (a bit more than 1 inch) pieces
3 heaped tablespoons Korean dried chili (my kimchi wasn’t very hot, just hot, but it depends on the chili’s hotness)
1 flat teaspoon grated or crushed garlic
1/2 flat teaspoon grated fresh ginger
chopped green onions (or European chives)
salt (I used about 2 flat tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon glutinous rice flour
4 tablespoons fish sauce or (as advised by Hyosun Ro):
2 tablespoons finely minced saeujeot (salted shrimp)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 raw shrimp (ground)
Prepare the rice paste combining the rice flour with about 20 ml water. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens.
Sprinkle the celery with salt and leave them for 30-40 minutes. (They will release some water but won’t soften like radish does).
Put the celery into a big container (with a lid) and combine well with the remaining ingredients.
Taste and if you think it’s not salty enough, add some fish sauce (Hyosun Ro says it should be just a bit too salty).
Cover with the lid, press with your hands (wear gloves!) to remove the air from between the celery pieces and leave for two days to ferment in room temperature. (Mine has fermented for three days because I prefer it stronger).
Put into the fridge after two days or more. In general it gets stronger every day.
You can refrigerate it only to make it cold and eat it straight away after the fermentation process or you can wait several days or weeks to see how the flavours change and at which stage you prefer it (Hyosun Ro says it requires two weeks to develop the best flavours and I totally agree).
You can keep kimchi in the fridge for several weeks.